Typical Crohn’s disease symptoms include:
- frequent, watery diarrhoea
- sense of urgency to have a bowel movement
- crampy abdominal pain
- a feeling of ‘blockage’
- fever during active stages of disease
- rectal bleeding (if the colon is involved)
- loss of appetite
- tiredness and fatigue
- weight loss.
The signs and symptoms of Crohn’s disease can vary considerably among those who have the condition, depending on the location and severity of the inflammation within the GI tract. For example, if a narrowing (stricture) occurs in the intestinal wall at the site of the inflammation—especially in the upper parts of the GI tract—there could be nausea, vomiting, bloating, and constipation. Crohn’s disease in the colon can mimic the effects of ulcerative colitis, often making it difficult to differentiate between the two conditions.
People with Crohn’s disease often feel tired and are easily fatigued. Inflammation in the small intestine can impair the digestion and absorption of essential nutrients from food, which adds to the tiredness and fatigue. This is often complicated by the fact that, during active stages of the disease, many people try to avoid eating in order to prevent their symptoms from worsening, perhaps not realising that inadequate intake of food and fluids can cause sudden and severe dehydration and, over time, lead to malnutrition. This is an important consideration for anyone with Crohn’s disease, especially the children and adolescents who might experience delayed growth or pubertal development as a result. For this reason, a dietitian or nutritionist is an important member of the clinical team, especially for children and young people with Crohn’s disease.
In addition to symptoms related to the GI tract, Crohn’s disease can also cause symptoms in other parts of the body. These include:
- red itchy eyes
- sores in the mouth
- swollen and painful joints
- bumps or lesions on the skin
- thinning of the bones (osteoporosis)
- kidney stones
- (rarely) hepatitis or cirrhosis of the liver.
Another common feature of Crohn’s disease is inflammation around the anus. This may take the form of abscesses (sacs filled with fluid, bacteria, and pus), fissures (ulcerated cracks) or fistulae (channels leading from the intestine to other body organs). A narrowing of the intestinal wall can result from the swelling and inflammation during active disease, as well as from the formation of scar tissue (fibrotic strictures) following prolonged inflammation. A combination of some, or all of these symptoms can help your doctor make a Crohn’s disease diagnosis.